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New topic since the other one was getting diluted.

pauleckler asks:

And who is the pipe foundry that was on 60 Minutes (or was it Bill Moyer's Now)? Ghost plants (one in Mississippi, one in NJ) operated with absolute minimum staffing. Inexperienced operators getting killed by equipment with no one around to find them much less help them.

Sounds like this business can be very cut throat.

McWane. In a word: ghastly. The whole industry isn't like that. But McWane takes the cake. It's not minimal staffing or cut-throat business practices. In McWane's case, I really don't know what you'd say is the problem. They've simply been operating the same way for about a century, and it has finally caught up with them. There are similar operations, but not many. The closest thing I can think of is Stillwaters (only platinum mining company in North America).

60 Minutes got it wrong. It wasn't minimal staffing. Inexperience is due to both lack of experience at the management level too, but turnover is the biggest issue (it's a very, very nasty place to work). Plant supervisors simply are not paying attention. It's a total lack of knowledge and/or willingness to follow standard industrial practices. From talking with folks who previously worked there, it doesn't seem like it's a willingness issue either at the current time, but they have a hell of an uphill battle to overcome.

Recently 2 plant managers and an environmental VP just got sent on an all expenses paid trip to a gray bar hotel for secretly dumping waste into a river at night near Birmingham and then forging the EPA reports.

The same plant until very recently had about 6" of water on the floor all the time. The guys on the casting deck had to work in knee boots all day long, rain or shine (and we're talking tropical Alabama rain showers in summer). It was a steam bath to say the least.

This particular plant has two sets of casting machines with a crane mounted on a monorail to deliver molten iron to both of them. During one incident, the monorail actually "split" in half (corrosion and lack of inspection), teetering the crane off to one side about 30+ feet in the air. The casting foreman was screaming over the radio about the fact that he was running out of iron to feed the casting machines. Finally, the maintenance superintendent told the idiot that he wasn't going to be getting any more iron for the rest of the day and at the moment the only concern the crane operator had was whether or not he was going to die today. And how they were going to rescue him.

The Birmingham plant really should be just simply shut down. But there's a sentimental attachment to it because that is where McWane started. So they continue to persist in a losing battle.

McWane is also in trouble in Texas for environmental reasons, but I haven't followed that one as closely.

The Phillipsburg, NJ, plant is in so much trouble that I think they were rated as the most dangerous plant in the U.S. by OSHA. Here at least the major issues aren't environmental (that I know of...). For instance, that plant is in trouble for lock and tag procedures. Getting slapped with penalty for that is something of a joke because they didn't even have the infrastructure installed to do lock & tag...they have to replace a significant portion of their electrical switch gear even to do things safely.

The same plant is the only one left I know of that holds their sand cores in place by using a hammer to drive wooden wedges in. The rest of the plants have a hydraulic jack to do the same thing (safely and with higher production rates). They routinely have guys out for smashed fingers.

The same plant is also in deep trouble for discrimination practices, among other things. Right now, they have officials actively patrolling the plant around the clock looking for trouble in this area.

At the same plant, one of their mechanics was on 24 hour call to be to the plant in 10 minutes if they had a wreck in their annealing oven. His job was to put on the aluminum fire suit, get doused with a water hose for a few minutes, hold his breath (so the air didn't burn his lungs out), run in and physically maneuver pipe around in the middle of an operating oven (at 1400-1800 F) to get it running again. He was the only guy small enough to make it through the access doors, so he has a "safe" job.
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I participated in an online survey about the McWane plant in Phillipsburg, NJ. It seemed to be from a public relations firm. They wanted to know what they could do to improve their image in the state.

Tough business where you invest in window dressing rather than resolving real operating problems.
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I try not to be really bold in condemning some companies, especially when it comes to somebody who is for all intents and purposes a neighbor. But in this case, what's going on is beyond the pale. They make foundries, the whole pipe industry, and in fact any heavy industry in New Jersey look really bad.

I participated in an online survey about the McWane plant in Phillipsburg, NJ. It seemed to be from a public relations firm. They wanted to know what they could do to improve their image in the state.

Uhh, when you voluntarily put in a $10MM baghouse & mercury removal system to be operational by the end of this year when the environmental regulation deadline is 2010 instead of even putting up a fight for the most ludicrous and crooked mercury emissions regulations in the U.S., in exchange for the state looking the other way on certain other issues that you have...

As Jeff Foxworthy might say, "Y'all just might have an image problem."

At this point, I believe that McWane can get it together and they can get out from under the rock that they've managed to get themselves into. They have the money and they have the interest. Even if they turn things around TOMORROW (granted it will take at least a year or two or more to fully turn things around), they are still going to have a black eye in the eyes of the state, and it will be a very long time before they ever get into the good graces of the regulators again.

The reason is simple. McWane has made the regulators involved look like buffoons, that they either can't or aren't doing their jobs. This pisses them off and makes the regulators that much more inclined to nail McWane even when they don't deserve it. If McWane is ever going to get out of the situation they're in, first they've got to actually do what's right. That means cleaning up their environmental issues (which they appear to be making an effort at doing), cleaning up their safety issues (more doubtful here), cleaning up their personnel issues (really doubtful here), and cleaning up their operation (productivity, quality, housekeeping, etc.).

Knowing what I know (which is a lot of inside baseball; I know former and current Phillipsburg people), I don't believe that it is going to happen with the current players.

Then, and only then, will any sort of "damage control" (image control) have any impact whatsoever. If not, then the image control will look like what it is...phoney window dressing.

I can give countless success stories, but a list of places that I have personal knowledge of will suffice. Ameristeel in nearby Perth Amboy. Engelhard's infamous Louisville, KY, plant (for arsenic and chromium pollution). Even the Rouge Steel plant or the Ford Rouge plant in Detroit which both were all but assumed walking dead at one point. All of them have taken it pretty hard on the chin for getting way, way out of control. However, all of them have managed to be come-back kids. Hopefully McWane can do the same.
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